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Why does the HD800 cause such polarizing opinions....

post #1 of 183
Thread Starter 
I think I have an idea why.

Firstly, let me say I've owned a pair since the week they were released to the public, I even invested in a second pair when word spread that different pairs have different sound signatures. I didn't notice a true difference between the two pairs I owned, except that one was just a hair brighter in the upper mids, but we're not talking anything that one could notice unless purposefully listening through several tests. I then sold one of the two pairs on head-fi.

Anyway, I want to comment on the headphones I currently own, not for bragging purposes, but because I want you, the reader, to have a clear conception of what my experiences are.

The most prestigious headphone I own is the R10 (bass heavy), I have also owned the bass light and I sold that one as it didn't thrill me as much. After that, the best headphones I have owned are the Ultrasone Edition8, HifiMan HE-5 and several other headphones which would probably be deemed mid-fi by the incredibly high standard listed above (HD650 / HD600 / K701 / DT880 / DT990 / SA5000 / D5000 / DT770)..........I'm not still in posession of all those mid-fi cans, but I do still own about half mentioned.

When it comes to reproducing acoustic instruments I have never yet heard a headphone capable of the realism which the HD800 is capable of. This includes the R10s, I feel the HD800 is the most true sounding headphone when reproducing un-electronically filtered instruments. For classical music, and most jazz (collectively consuming about 70% of my listening time) I prefer the HD800 about 90% of the time. I think there is a misconception that they are bright. If I had to call one headphone truly neutral and truly "uncolored", I would refer to the HD800 as choice number 1. There are certainly things which the R10 and HE5 are capable of doing which the HD800 are not. For one, the R10 makes nearly everything sound good! The R10s are lush and beautiful like an impressionistic painting. You want to live in that world, but it's not the world you truly live in. I would still say in many ways the R10s are the best sounding headphone I've heard because they really do make everything sound special. But I do consider the R10s (bass heavy) to be a warm headphone and possibly even a colored headphone in that I find it's bass impact to be more forward than neutral. The HE-5 is an amazing bargain (however as of the date of this OP I hear they are still working out some defects on specific pairs).....the HE-5 has a very close resemblance to the R10s in terms of response. The HE-5 differs in that it is slightly more aggressive, has a distinct drop in bass impact and is eversoslightly less transparent than the R10, but for $600 versus $6000 (the average going rate on a good pair of R10s these days), I would say the HE-5 are close to a steal.

But then there's the HD800 which transfer sound to my ear in way that is simply different than all other headphones. It's not the size of the soundstage or the very meticulous imaging abilities which I think make the HD800 stand apart. I'm going to mention something which I think has never been said and it's very important to me....

In headphones, when sound leaves the driver and travels to you ear it is creating the illusion that there is a sound source somewhere around you. When bass frequencies hit your ear, you can actually feel the vibration in addition to hearing it. I have not yet heard a headphone until the HD800 which was able to create the illusion that bass source I was hearing was actually centered rather than feeling a hard left and hard right bass source. Even if the bass is centered in the mix, the notes of the bass are center, but the vibrating resonances which you can actually feel in your ear have this feeling (at least for me) of being left/right, not centered.....this flaw for me has always subtracted from the experience of headphone enjoyment. People have remarked that the bass on the HD800 is lacking, but for me, it is the ONLY headphone I have heard which truly shows how bass should be done in a headphone. Firstly, most music is mastered today to be listened to through "fun" headphones or speakers. I would say that most commercial mastering today is bright as a 300 watt light bulb and much of it truly lacks bass extension. So when you're listening to a song which has been mastered like this, it is absolutely going to make the HD800 sound bright. However if you take out a modern classical recording or an ECM Jazz recording (I trust the way they master their music) or a Steve Hoffman DCC or Mofi CD, I assure you the bass is there. Firstly, the HD800 has the deepest bass I have ever heard. The impact is large in that the notes are very present, but the impact of feeling the bass against your ear is less than usual. This creates the illusion that you are not hearing bass, but in fact you are, all the way down to 20 hertz. When it comes to rock music I do not recommend this headphone as your main one, it will not have the impact in the bass region necessary for getting you deep into the music, but if you are interested in hearing acoustic instruments sound as natural as possible I believe these are worth the $1400 price tag.

I think the thing which makes the HD800 as polarized as it has become is that it's not a pretty sounding headphone. It doesn't manipulate the music to sound good. In fact some songs and entire recordings sound awful on them! Does this mean it's a "niche" headphone? Possibly...but I don't think a headphone can truly be great without being a "niche" headphone because it is my opinion that due to the varied way in which music is mastered and mixed, no headphone can ever perform equally well in all genres while still outclassing other niche headphones of specific genres.

Footnote:

I don't think the HD800 are better than the R10 necessarily.......the R10 make a lot of music sound better than reality if that makes any sense?

If I were to sum up the HD800 in one analogical sentence it would be this:

If you're willing to hear the truth, and you're feeding the headphones truth (unfiltered recordings), you will hear as much of the truth as headphones can currently offer, it is up to you to appreciate this truth, or prefer a prettier distortion of it:-)
post #2 of 183
Very nice write up David. The only thing I disagree with you on is that in my opinion the HD800 do have slightly faulty imaging and there is just a tad too much brightness, but I was able to correct this with a simple mod.
post #3 of 183
From my point of view - the HD800 aren't bright. They are OK in this regard, sounding even on the sweet side of midrange to me. They have very threedimentional imaging but their soundstage is artificial to me due to lack of perspective. Everything is huge wherever it stands. There is no size shrinking with the distance. The HD800's decay is too short for me so I perceive their sound as dead or overly damped. There is a dent in the mid-treble making highs sound a bit dry. I have impression I wear them unoptimally after each several minutes of listening, so I move the transducers to change their position against my head and when I think I put them in the right position, this impression lasts 10 minutes at best. And the corrections never end. Looks like the donut transducer doesn't do it for me. The PS1000 eat them for breakfast. The GS1000i are good enough for me to choose them any day instead of the HD800. Commercial reviews seem to reflect my thoughts while my opinion has formed months ago prior to aforementioned comparisons being published, so no bias from the magazine's side appeared.

I am also very surprised to read that it finally succeeded with the HD800 to build impression of live performers around. Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro is a sufficient headphone to create such impression for a fraction of the HD800's price. The matter is a good source and a good amp, without entering high price numbers.
post #4 of 183
Great summary David. Two comments of the great many I've read from people who have owned and tried a great deal of gear struck me in their simplicity and how beautifully they summarised the HD-800s: The first was from jpelg, who said to the effect of that they could easily become un-stuck if so much as a single component in the system was changed, but were worth building your system around. The second was from n3rdling, saying to the effect of that he'd never tried a pair of headphones that sounded so different from different gear. To me, the HD-800s are the most absolute headphones, and absolutely represent everything that is good and bad about Head-fi -- they can be the ultimate reward with the right gear, and the ultimate curse in their absolute "This IS how it is" nature which gives you everything that gear is capable, or incapable of.

The only other headphones I've tried recently to enter the top-end are the Symphones Magnums (highly modified Grado SR-325is), which are also capable of delivering instruments with a perfection that matches the HD-800s, though with an intimacy that brings you into the music and without any trickery, maintaining the same detail and speed. The lack of intimacy and cavernous sound-stage is in many respects one of the HD-800's greatest and worst features -- great on orchestral and jazz, and less great on other types of music, making the music seem too distant. So to add to a comment such as that of n3rdling's, I'd say they are also very dependant on the person's musical tastes, as much so as on the gear they are used with.
post #5 of 183
Well said, DavidMahler, well said. The HD800 simply do it for me like no other, available headphone, does....and you've explained what I feel more eloquently than I could ever have.

Don't know why so many folks on this forum get so emotionally opposed to the HD800 but really don't think about it too much.

The HD800s have saved me a bundle in HP purchases....I bought them when they first came out(june 2009-SN00459-no flaws at all) and haven't looked back. I've been loving my music like never before.

Thanks so much for the great read...your efforts are appreciated.
post #6 of 183
Why do so many folks, especially at hifiwigwam, call the treble of the HD800 as etched? Wait, I
am going to start a thread on this soon. The point is not that I am a HD800 basher, I just find it strange when an equally large number of people think that the HD800 is unnatural sounding.
post #7 of 183
DavidMahler,
I also hate that extreme right, extreme left bass done on all the headphones Ive heard but foobars naive crossfeed fixes it
post #8 of 183
You got lots of correct points David. HD800 is a special headphone and it is very particular about the components it is paired with. Listening to a pair of HD800 I realized that I may not be able to afford the whole package to pair the HD800's with.

In the Dallas meet I heard HD-800, Stax and HE-5. HE-5 wowed me more than anything else as they sounded like my old speaker system. More over, the HD-800's sounded a lot similar to my K701's to me. Hence I decided to invest in a good amp/dac and HE-5's.

As special as HD-800's is, it requires a truely special pairing with all the components and music to make them shine. In that aspect they are a lot like my favorite can K701's.
post #9 of 183
Quote:
Originally Posted by sree View Post
As special as HD-800's is, it requires a truely special pairing with all the components and music to make them shine. In that aspect they are a lot like my favorite can K701's.
You can say it about K1000, PS1000, HP1000, T1, and some others as well, so I assume we are talking about the HD800 working in a very special setup against say OII or K1000 also driven from an optimal setup. And then, both are in the whole another league than the HD800. The PS1000 is close to the K1000 in terms of realism and sonic diversity. The HD800 will never let you forget you listen to the HD800 IMHO.
post #10 of 183
You know David, last night I was sampling some songs with the hd800 and I was saying to myself "this sounds REALLY good" and later "this sounds REALLY distant (ie not good!)".

With the HD800 it's so clear to me that some genres or artists simply sound phenominal ~ I particularly like "slower" music through the hd800's stuff like the blues or slower rock; there's something about the way the music is presented that is very pleasing with music like eva cassidy or even groove armada that I really like. BUT when I move to say Trance; where the music is very fast paced and bass dependent, I find that the music doesn't have the impact that my brain is looking for!

I very much like the hd800, even moreso now that I am pairing them with a tube amp, but I also recognize that they are simply not a be all end all headphone. The sad part is I'm at a point in my life where I really like trance music; but I'm also really liking the blues So it's a toss up depending on what I want to hear!!

Luckily, I've picked up recently the Sony cd3000 which I feel can cover a wider range of genres like trance quite well ~ so I have a lot of variety when it comes to my cans.
post #11 of 183
Quote:
Originally Posted by majkel View Post
You can say it about K1000, PS1000, HP1000, T1, and some others as well, so I assume we are talking about the HD800 working in a very special setup against say OII or K1000 also driven from an optimal setup. And then, both are in the whole another league than the HD800. The PS1000 is close to the K1000 in terms of realism and sonic diversity. The HD800 will never let you forget you listen to the HD800 IMHO.
May be true. I have not heard the other phones except for K1000 so I cannot comment on them. I have spent some time with only HD800 and hence my comment. I tried them on different setups in the dallas meet and the sound signature varied on various setup and even balanced VS unbalanced.
post #12 of 183
I think that the obvious conclusion from this thread and also others that deals in neutral or not..is that certain music genres,like rock,metal,and for me even electronic, should be played in a "fun",coloured headphone/speakers.
those music genres are probably design for that. that's the way I see it.
there is a reason why all of us (at least most of us) can agree that those genres don't sound good in a neutral setup because they need that extra bass,extra push.
and more "natural" music genres like classical and acoustic,jazz sound great when played in a rather neutral system.

what do you think?
post #13 of 183
Nice summary. Well said. I found the HD800 brighter than my HD650 for sure, but not too bright.
post #14 of 183
Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMahler View Post
I have not yet heard a headphone until the HD800 which was able to create the illusion that bass source I was hearing was actually centered rather than feeling a hard left and hard right bass source. Even if the bass is centered in the mix, the notes of the bass are center, but the vibrating resonances which you can actually feel in your ear have this feeling (at least for me) of being left/right, not centered.....this flaw for me has always subtracted from the experience of headphone enjoyment.
Quote:
Originally Posted by donunus View Post
DavidMahler,
I also hate that extreme right, extreme left bass done on all the headphones Ive heard but foobars naive crossfeed fixes it
I've heard this too. I tends to seem to me that when the bass is not mixed to the center you get this "phasy" feeling, like the bass is going inone ear and out the other ... or something like that. I find crossfeed fixes it as well.

Thanks for the very nice write-up.
post #15 of 183
Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMahler View Post
I think I have an idea why.

Firstly, let me say I've owned a pair since the week they were released to the public, I even invested in a second pair when word spread that different pairs have different sound signatures. I didn't notice a true difference between the two pairs I owned, except that one was just a hair brighter in the upper mids, but we're not talking anything that one could notice unless purposefully listening through several tests. I then sold one of the two pairs on head-fi.

Anyway, I want to comment on the headphones I currently own, not for bragging purposes, but because I want you, the reader, to have a clear conception of what my experiences are.

The most prestigious headphone I own is the R10 (bass heavy), I have also owned the bass light and I sold that one as it didn't thrill me as much. After that, the best headphones I have owned are the Ultrasone Edition8, HifiMan HE-5 and several other headphones which would probably be deemed mid-fi by the incredibly high standard listed above (HD650 / HD600 / K701 / DT880 / DT990 / SA5000 / D5000 / DT770)..........I'm not still in posession of all those mid-fi cans, but I do still own about half mentioned.

When it comes to reproducing acoustic instruments I have never yet heard a headphone capable of the realism which the HD800 is capable of. This includes the R10s, I feel the HD800 is the most true sounding headphone when reproducing un-electronically filtered instruments. For classical music, and most jazz (collectively consuming about 70% of my listening time) I prefer the HD800 about 90% of the time. I think there is a misconception that they are bright. If I had to call one headphone truly neutral and truly "uncolored", I would refer to the HD800 as choice number 1. There are certainly things which the R10 and HE5 are capable of doing which the HD800 are not. For one, the R10 makes nearly everything sound good! The R10s are lush and beautiful like an impressionistic painting. You want to live in that world, but it's not the world you truly live in. I would still say in many ways the R10s are the best sounding headphone I've heard because they really do make everything sound special. But I do consider the R10s (bass heavy) to be a warm headphone and possibly even a colored headphone in that I find it's bass impact to be more forward than neutral. The HE-5 is an amazing bargain (however as of the date of this OP I hear they are still working out some defects on specific pairs).....the HE-5 has a very close resemblance to the R10s in terms of response. The HE-5 differs in that it is slightly more aggressive, has a distinct drop in bass impact and is eversoslightly less transparent than the R10, but for $600 versus $6000 (the average going rate on a good pair of R10s these days), I would say the HE-5 are close to a steal.

But then there's the HD800 which transfer sound to my ear in way that is simply different than all other headphones. It's not the size of the soundstage or the very meticulous imaging abilities which I think make the HD800 stand apart. I'm going to mention something which I think has never been said and it's very important to me....

In headphones, when sound leaves the driver and travels to you ear it is creating the illusion that there is a sound source somewhere around you. When bass frequencies hit your ear, you can actually feel the vibration in addition to hearing it. I have not yet heard a headphone until the HD800 which was able to create the illusion that bass source I was hearing was actually centered rather than feeling a hard left and hard right bass source. Even if the bass is centered in the mix, the notes of the bass are center, but the vibrating resonances which you can actually feel in your ear have this feeling (at least for me) of being left/right, not centered.....this flaw for me has always subtracted from the experience of headphone enjoyment. People have remarked that the bass on the HD800 is lacking, but for me, it is the ONLY headphone I have heard which truly shows how bass should be done in a headphone. Firstly, most music is mastered today to be listened to through "fun" headphones or speakers. I would say that most commercial mastering today is bright as a 300 watt light bulb and much of it truly lacks bass extension. So when you're listening to a song which has been mastered like this, it is absolutely going to make the HD800 sound bright. However if you take out a modern classical recording or an ECM Jazz recording (I trust the way they master their music) or a Steve Hoffman DCC or Mofi CD, I assure you the bass is there. Firstly, the HD800 has the deepest bass I have ever heard. The impact is large in that the notes are very present, but the impact of feeling the bass against your ear is less than usual. This creates the illusion that you are not hearing bass, but in fact you are, all the way down to 20 hertz. When it comes to rock music I do not recommend this headphone as your main one, it will not have the impact in the bass region necessary for getting you deep into the music, but if you are interested in hearing acoustic instruments sound as natural as possible I believe these are worth the $1400 price tag.

I think the thing which makes the HD800 as polarized as it has become is that it's not a pretty sounding headphone. It doesn't manipulate the music to sound good. In fact some songs and entire recordings sound awful on them! Does this mean it's a "niche" headphone? Possibly...but I don't think a headphone can truly be great without being a "niche" headphone because it is my opinion that due to the varied way in which music is mastered and mixed, no headphone can ever perform equally well in all genres while still outclassing other niche headphones of specific genres.

Footnote:

I don't think the HD800 are better than the R10 necessarily.......the R10 make a lot of music sound better than reality if that makes any sense?

If I were to sum up the HD800 in one analogical sentence it would be this:

If you're willing to hear the truth, and you're feeding the headphones truth (unfiltered recordings), you will hear as much of the truth as headphones can currently offer, it is up to you to appreciate this truth, or prefer a prettier distortion of it:-)
Thank you.. & Welcome to the polarizing club.. DT48/K701/CD900ST
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